, ,

The Escalade run may be the biggest sporting event in Geneva but the bravest competition is one week later when small groups of swimmers dive into the frigid waters of lac Leman to swim a short 120 meters.

It’s called the Coupe de Noël and is the longest running sporting event in Geneva. In 1934 René Doria, an avid swimmer, invited nine friends to test their swimming abilities in winter. Back then it became a competitive event. Nowadays most of the 1,800 participants are out for a good time dressed in a variety of swimming “costumes.”

Training for the Coupe de Noel is a dedicated process beginning in September. One can participate in the weekly Sunday group at the Bains des Paquis but in my daughter’s case she chose winter swimming training as her first trimester gym class. One must enter the water at least once a week as the temperature of the lake descends. The rule of thumb is to swim one minute for each degree Celsius. As I write this blog, the temperature of the lake is 8 degrees but it could easily dip as low as 5 degrees by event day.

In order to avoid shock, you must let your major temperature sensors know what your body is in for. So you splash water on the soles of your feet and the back of your neck. You’re not supposed to dive into the water but during the Coupe de Noel nearly everyone plunges after a bucket of water is poured over them.

My daughter, who hates the cold, had a great time facing this challenge with her friends. She would describe how their knees were blue and skin totally numb when they exited the water. Hot showers are not advised so the kids would quickly change into their clothes and head into the fire-heated fondue tent in order to eat cake and drink tea.


The Coupe de Noël is Sunday, December 18 from 9:00 to 15:00 along the Jardin Anglais. If you would like to participate next year, mark your calendar to inscribe at the beginning of October 2017. The places fill quickly.